06/21/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Could A Dirty House Equal Healthy Kids?

"Someone's interested in our house," my husband said. "I told them we'd show it this weekend." He then looked at me expectantly.

"That's great!" I replied enthusiastically, thinking he was seeking my approval. He wasn't.

"Do you think we could have it clean by then?" he asked after a long silence.

"You know, honey, that hurts. It really does. It's tough with the kids. I think I do a darn good job keeping this place presentable." I followed his eyes to the dust on the television screen, in which our son had drawn a really quite impressive race track.

"I mean, for the most part," I said lamely. Then I remembered something I had just read about cleaning and allergies.

"Besides, scientists discovered that a certain amount of dirt and dust may actually be helpful in building kids' immune systems! I'm doing our children a great service by not cleaning! You should be thanking me! Look at what we're saving in doctor bills!"

He was muttering as he walked away, but all I could make out was something about "allergic to clean plates."

He's right, of course. I'm not a great housekeeper. I'd love to chalk it up to a fluke of nature and say that I never was, but that's not altogether true. In fact, in the old days, I was borderline anal about neatness. Really. You'd never know it today, but then again, I also used to be a size 2.

Anyway, all you'd have to do is ask my parents. They were there. When I was a child, I cleaned like a madwoman. It's what I did. My brothers played sports, and I vacuumed. And dusted. And washed dishes. And picked up toys. And dusted and vacuumed some more. It was almost scary, I tell you.

But I was my mom's sanity in the maelstrom that was our family. I cleaned whenever I could, as hard as I could. It made my parents happy, and in my mind I won their approval. Turns out they were just thrilled to see the floor, but what did I know? There was some heavy competition for attention in those days. We did what we had to do.

Then, when I got out on my own, I apparently had a revelation of some sort. It occurred to me that all of those years growing up, I felt my worth was somehow attached to my cleaning skills. That's what I associated approval with. My parents loved me because I understood the concept of "elbow grease" and was not afraid to use it.

Oh, sure, my parents felt bad for the misunderstanding, claiming to this day that they loved me for me and not for my cleaning supplies, but the damage was done. I swore off the stuff forever.

I took charge of my self-esteem. When I brought a guy back to my apartment, I would almost dare him to look around. Take me as I am, I would silently declare with a sweep, so to speak, of my arm across a living room adorned in dog hair. I do not clean. I do not cook. I do not do windows. Love me or leave me.

Needless to say, I was single for a long time.

Anyhoo, that may or may not be the origin of my current housekeeping challenge. Who cares, really? My house may be a mess, but darn it, I know my husband loves me for me. And he knows, now, that there are more important things in life than race tracks drawn in the dust. Thank goodness science was there to back me up.

It turns out that the people looking at our house last weekend read the same article. As they went from floor to floor, appraising everything from woodwork to windows, they were very gracious in their comments. When the tour was over, they gave one final look around.

"My!" they said, "What healthy children you must have!"